Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is Stephen Hawking Serious About the 'God Particle' Destroying the Universe?

One thing we can say about Stephen Hawking: He's never at a loss to come up with a new way to scare the bejeezus out of complacent humans. Just three years ago he warned of an invasion of advanced aliens that would likely imitate the arrival of the European conquistadors who decimated native peoples in the New World in the 15th-16th centuries. Only this time modern humans would occupy the place of those technologically unsophisticated groups and become fodder for the aliens. It got many people to start thinking that we may have to worry a bit more when we send powerful signals into space - either intentionally or unintentionally.

Most recently, Prof. Hawking has warned that the Higgs boson — or so-called God particle — has the potential to destroy the universe, as reported by the Sunday Times .  This seems even more terrifying than the alien threat because the latter was localized for our own species and corner of the cosmos- as opposed to snuffing the whole 'enchilada'. But when one reads between the lines one quickly realizes Hawking is stretching the bounds of practical scientific prowess and feasibility.

The putative basis of his warning is actually highlighted in more detail in the foreword to the book Starmus, 50 Years of Man in Space.   Therein, the theoretical physicist wrote that if accelerated to high energy levels, the Higgs boson could cause space and time to collapse — and we’d be caught unawares. From the preface:
“The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become megastable at energies above 100bn giga-electron-volts (GeV). This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”

However, Hawking is gracious (and sympathetic of human feelings) enough to go on to aver he does not believe that this event will happen in the near future. Gee, thanks a heap, Stevie! But I'd have guessed it anyway given the magnitude of the energy needed from an accelerator (100b GeV) to make that happen. (Let us also bear in mind that the energy scale driving vacuum inflation was last seen just after the Big Bang- whereby the initial cosmos expanded from the size of an atom (about 1 fm in diameter) to several times the radius of the solar system.)

Anyway, Hawking explains for our benefit:

 “A particle accelerator that reaches 100 billion  GeV would be larger than Earth and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate.”

Hmmmmmm........"larger than the Earth"...... or more than 8,000 miles long! Yeppers, I believe that would take roughly all the money that's ever been spent on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems - or about 14 trillion dollars (at minimum). So, I don't believe there's anything to fret over, since the energy demands of our population are actually increasing as the reserves are diminishing. (Frackers want you to believe they have the exception but this is mere 'snake oil' to use the parlance of Richard Heinberg)

In point of fact, such energy mastery would be more typical of the Type I Civilization once proposed by Russian cosmologist I.S. Kardashev. By his definition such a civilization would be able to wield and develop energy scales equal to an entire planet's output. (By his reckoning Earth wasn't even at Type 0.1).

(The Higgs boson was theorized by Dr. Peter Higgs in 1964. In 2012, evidence of Higgs boson was discovered by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. )

All of this interjects the question of what Hawking's next scare is likely to be: a possible collision with a mini-black hole (or one created in the CERN machine?) Or, Earth being blasted by the intense radiation of a gamma burst supernova? I am sure Vegas books will soon be taking bets!

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